Saturday, May 25, 2024

Is Europe Serious About Climate Action, or Is It All ‘Gesture Politics?’


Climate crises are increasing around the globe. And while often looked to as a leader in climate action, is Europe actually falling behind?

London is under threat from extreme weather, according to the Mayor Sadiq Khan. In fact, the city’s future could include 45 degrees heatwaves in the near future, he warned at a recent New York climate summit, before pointing out that the U.K. capital is simply not built to withstand the heat.

Last year, the city recorded its highest-ever temperature in July, which was more than 40 degrees. At that time, households were told to save as much water as possible by switching off washing machines, and a record number of fires burned across the capital and the rest of the country.  

“[If the heat keeps rising] it means the underground is not fit for purpose, some of the homes are too hot in the daytime, care homes and schools too,” Khan told the Guardian. “It means we have to adapt to those temperatures now. It’s now time for those who are delaying action to wake up and smell the coffee because this is happening now.”

“It’s now,” he stressed again. “And it’s happening to us.” 

Is Europe taking the climate crisis seriously enough?

Khan’s comments come less than a year after one survey found that 60 percent of Brits think the government is not doing enough to tackle the climate crisis. And just a few days before the Conservative U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a major u-turn on key net zero goals by pushing back climate commitments, like the new petrol car ban.

Khan, who represents the Labour Party, has also called on the Conservative government to do more to assist London in coping with incoming extreme temperatures. “We have to throw everything at this,” he said. “We’ve had very little support from the government. The fact the prime minister isn’t coming to the UN general assembly and may not go to Cop28 speaks volumes.”

climate rebellion
Photo Courtesy Hari Nandakumar

That said, Sunak has confirmed he will be attending Cop28, which begins in Dubai on November 30. But some politicians, like U.K. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, have said that unless he takes an active role in the summit, “it amounts to nothing more than gesture politics.”

It’s not just some European politicians who don’t seem to be taking the threat of the climate crisis seriously enough. One survey conducted in May 2023 found that most people in the U.K., France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Spain, and Italy want climate action, but ideally not to the extent that it affects their everyday lives.

This is despite the fact that the impact of extreme weather is already being felt not just in London, but across the continent.

Earlier this month, Venice in Italy, which is threatened by mass flooding, narrowly avoided being placed on Unesco’s World Heritage in Danger List. Increasingly erratic weather also threatens France’s prestigious wine region, and in August, Spain had to introduce water restrictions as it battled through a drought emergency.

‘Actions must reflect the level of urgency

Many countries in Europe are taking some action to prepare for climate change, but the general consensus is it is simply not enough. Low-income countries, which have made very little contribution to the rising emissions responsible for the climate crisis but are suffering through devastating extreme weather events, are also waiting for the West to act. 

Some believe that action will only come when Europeans, and Americans, recognize the level of threat that is coming their way. 

“Rather than appealing to the West’s conscience or pushing the tale that they will only be indirectly affected by the folly of their actions, the world should borrow the language of JRR Tolkien in ‘The Hobbit’: ‘If this is to end in fire, then we should all burn together,’” wrote Kenyan journalist and political cartoonist Patrick Gathara for Aljazeera in November last year.

Extreme weather patterns are increasing asa result of climate change. | Photo Courtesy NASA

And in the previous October, the UN also said that most countries did not have ambitious enough plans to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees by the end of the century.

“The downward trend in emissions expected by 2030 shows that nations have made some progress this year,” said Simon Stiell, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change. “But the science is clear and so are our climate goals under the Paris Agreement. We are still nowhere near the scale and pace of emission reductions required to put us on track toward a 1.5 degrees Celsius world.

“Government decisions and actions must reflect the level of urgency, the gravity of the threats we are facing, and the shortness of the time we have remaining to avoid the devastating consequences of runaway climate change.”

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